Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Grape #34: Raising The Bar

In the great scheme of things, one phrase of slander against the President of the United States comes and goes. Whether it's an attack on Barack Obama's citizenship or Donald Trump's hair, or any of the much worse things thrown at both of them in the past and present, the individual insults are fleeting. It's the larger regression of our public discourse that matters more, and where we must begin.

No matter who you voted for in the last two presidential elections in the United States, or who you would have voted for if you could have, one truth should always, always, always be at the forefront of your thinking: morality is more important than politics.

On Sunday night, Robert De Niro hurled an insult at President Donald Trump on live television at the Tony Awards. He said, "Fuck Trump. It's no longer 'Down with Trump'. It's 'Fuck Trump'."

Now I happen to understand Mr. De Niro's feelings 100%, and in the moment, I don't mind admitting I was happy he said it, but in retrospect? Well, in retrospect I see how utterly useless it was, and how it only sets us back a bit more.

I despise Donald Trump's loathsome character and cold-souled assaults on countless people on both sides of the political divide, but I both want and need to publicly acknowledge my distaste of insults and mindless curses from his critics. Do I understand them? Yes. Have I taken part in some public sub-par criticisms of Mr. Trump, too? Yes, and I'm sorry. But it is my feeling, deep in my soul, that we need to stop such childish behavior as soon as possible.

The loud criticism must continue, because clearly far too many American citizens think Mr. Trump's vile behavior is worth supporting, but the adolescent rants about his skin color, hair, waist size, and looks are just ridiculous, and we will never prove ourselves any better than the Bully in Chief by sinking to his level like this. To put it another way, we cannot hope to prove to people how awful his insults are when we just join his games and do it ourselves.

I understand the need to attack Mr. Trump in any verbal and written way we can. The guy disgusts me like no other human being ever has, and I find his reckless lies and despicable, deplorable behavior deeply disturbing, matched only by my shock at the complete refusal of so many people I know and love to publicly call this man out for his hideous behavior.

This is not about politics. We are all always going to disagree and argue over political issues, and hopefully, we can do even that from a place of morality, and not in a pursuit of money or power. This is about basic moral decency. When the President of the United States of America is bullying people with name calling, or telling outright lies from podiums and social media alike, you should be very alarmed and very disturbed. You should be ashamed. And you should speak out.

I'm somewhere left of center politically, but only because every moral truth I've ever learned tells me caring about the least among us is more important than how much money I have in my own bank account, and because I feel weapons capable of killing should not be something people want to own. Turn the other cheek, and offer that one as well. He who is without sin can throw the first stone. Remember those? No, too many of us have not. We've conveniently forgotten.

My point is this: morality should be your focus in all things, all day every day, even in politics.

One of the reasons Robert De Niro and your friend on Facebook and that other guy, and that other woman you know all scream out so often with insults and slurs is because Donald Trump's supporters have absolutely nothing to say by way of criticism of him. They don't feel any need to say a damn thing. Yet when someone dares attack him, as De Niro did Sunday, suddenly everyone's got a passion about them you never see otherwise.

Do you not get the hypocrisy and insane madness of this? At all?

So let me repeat my earlier call to action, and I say this knowing some of my liberal friends will keep doing it anyway. Stop insulting Donald's hair, skin coloring, and other personal attributes. That kind of game is mean, and we need to just stop being mean to each other, even to bullies.

DO keep attacking his lies, malicious words, and childish behavior. Call him out for it any time you have the energy enough to do so. But do not sink to his level anymore. It's time to raise the bar for ourselves and our souls.

Be the better person, because I promise you, your passionate argument, when calmly thought out, will always go over better than if you reduce things to silly slurs or mockery. Be better than that. Be the good you want to see in the world. If you truly believe Donald Trump is wrong when he mocks people and says awful things, then don't do it yourself. Thank you.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Grape #33: An Evening With John Edward

December 7, 2017.

Quotes here are just my best recollections, not transcriptions of actual lines from John or others.

On Tuesday night, I attended my very first group reading with a medium, and because it was my first time, I wanted to start with one of the best: Long Island's own John Edward.

Though I went into this event as a believer, I kept an open mind...for doubt. I allowed the voices of the naysayers some space in my mind, and I promised myself to stay focused and not let my emotions get the better of me. To put it another way, I waited for John to prove himself.

If you don't feel like reading further, I'll sum it up neatly: he was amazing, even more so than I remembered from his TV show, and he worked his ass off trying to validate every single message he received from the spirits. Even though a good number of people tried to interrupt him, he just kept plowing ahead nonstop, and by doing so, he proved he knew more (because of the soul sharings of the spirits coming through) than those of us in attendance could tell him.

Doubt and cynicism come really easily to some people, and though I pity those whose default response is always dark and dreary, I certainly do understand their passionate desire for truth and validation. The thing is, so does John Edward.

I watched him time and time again as people tried to sideswipe spirit and hijack the readings. People rows away from the people he singled out would wave their hands at him ready to burst out, "I have a relative named Joe who's passed as well!" or "I'm a teacher, too! This must be for me!" He could have so easily grabbed hold of the opportunity and run with it, but instead, he stuck with the person and said, "No, I'm still with you guys. Who is the A-N connection for you?" It was Anna, the wife of the older man standing up behind me and the mother of the five girls standing around him.

This group fascinated me in a few different ways, because he started off by mentioning a Bob who was passed, but none of them knew who Bob was. They tried to make a connection, but John stopped them. "No, I'll get back to it. I just gotta go in the back door." He then proceeded to validate a long line of details for them, each one eliciting a quiet gasp from the people involved or the audience as a whole. Ten minutes passed of these great validations, and then all of a sudden, John collected himself, stood up straight, and announced a shift.

"Now. Here's what will happen at a lot of these group readings. Someone else here in the room is connected to your family somehow. Did you bring someone who's maybe sitting elsewhere in the room?" They shook their heads as we all looked around at the other 200 or so people in attendance. "No, I don't think so," one of the women said. On the opposite side of the room near the front, a woman's hand went up, and she was handed a microphone. "I work with her," she said. "I recognized her voice when she spoke before, but didn't know she'd be here."

The vibration of the room ticked up a bit, and John went on.

"Your mom, Anna," he said, pointing to the group standing behind me, "is bringing through your father," he said, looking now at the woman up front. "Your dad is Bob, yes?" he asked the woman. "Yes," she said, and there it was. I was gobsmacked. Cue the fireworks over Cinderella Castle.

John Edward doesn't stretch or guess, except to understand what it is the spirits are trying to tell him. He even admitted at one point that he asked a younger male energy 17 times how he passed, but the spirit wouldn't tell him. The people in the room throughout the evening kept trying to stretch and guess, but John wouldn't allow it. He shushed them, told them they were wrong more often than not when they tried to do this, and he stayed firm to the details he was getting in the specific directions he was being pulled to deliver them.

You know how when you attend a magic show or watch one on TV, you say to yourself, "Now how did he do that?" I imagine skeptics attending a reading with a medium might ask themselves the same. The thing is, there are no tricks here, no matter what some dumb YouTube video you once saw convinced you to believe. The truth is, an expert medium like John Edward or Tyler Henry is getting information from somewhere other than the physical world and the minds within it, and they're able to translate this information with amazing accuracy.

To that point, John reminded us that we all use shorthand and emojis to communicate with each other in this world through texts and instant messenger, yet for some reason, we expect our loved ones who have crossed over to put on a Broadway production of Cats for us. It's a super valid point, don't you agree? Given the circumstances of what we're dealing with here, it's nothing short of invigorating to witness a medium of John's abilities in action.

I've already written a lot here, and to further make my point (I hope), I'm now going to make you understand my shorthand as well, and do your own translation work from my notes. As a writer, I've mastered the art of good shorthand, so while I enjoy reporting, I don't trust my memories alone.

I hope you'll see from the above and the notes below, I could tell you much more about my two hours in a room with John Edward. I may write more about some of this, but will just throw my notes at you for now. Feel free to ask me anything in particular anytime!

coins, flickering lights, orbs...guys, with cell phones now, a speck of dust can fall down and bam, you've got an orb...be realistic..."I could make anyone cry = slimy = not what I like to do"...1st year of loss = coasting, but 2nd year harder because so many of their supporters have drifted away...are we united or divided right now in the world...divided...the p word we need to understand is not politics but perspective, allow it to help us understand people...whole episode of South Park dedicated to me, more kids found me through that episode than through my TV shows...he describes himself as 48, OCD, Libra, lapsed Catholic, somewhat Christian...once saw musical notes going up from a woman in audience and thought it was someone blowing bubbles, walked over and saw she was praying rosary...see thoughts to loved ones who have died like texts, people don't respond right away...Heaven has multiple levels and we keep evolving..."Made in Heaven" movie, "Defending Your Life", reincarnation real, "Hello From Heaven" book; NDEs word you hear most is euphoric (or bliss); "Nobody passes alone" - JE...pre-9/11 he was overwhelmed with negative feelings to the point he felt incapacitated, hard to get out of bed; 9/10 death and dying episode on Larry King; 911 call emanating from his hotel suite on 9/11; knew South American plane would crash; spirits can intervene but not interfere

Monday, August 14, 2017

Grape #32: Brain Off, Soul On

August 14, 2017

Sometimes, your brain plays tricks on you. It clouds your real vision, forcing you to see all the negative, and virtually none of the positive.

And then you remember...to turn it off.

You remember too late, perhaps, after too much heartache and pain, but you do eventually remember.

You make a conscious decision to turn your brain off, and your soul on.

The soul is who you really are. You are a being of light confined for a time, wrapped up for a time in the mortal coil of human life. You are confined, in a way, but you're never really trapped. You're never really helpless or hopeless or dark.

The human brain is like a super computer weighing heavily on the lily pad of peace floating within you. It's the part of you that helps you function here as a human being. It reminds your muscles and bones to move as they're supposed to, and tells the other parts when you're about to stand up, or extend your arms, or even scream. And while the brain needs rest, such calm relaxation is simply another bodily function, and no more.

Resting your brain is not the same as engaging your soul.

The soul is like the sun. It's always shining, even if you can't see it, even if you can't feel it, and yes, even if you find yourself immersed in the darkness. Just as you go about your day without constantly thinking about the sun outside, and go about your evening without thinking about the sun still shining on another part of the planet, so too do you easily forget about your soul. And yet, strange as it may seem, your soul never forgets about you.

It flickers constantly, an unending, bright-burning flame within you that can never be vanquished. It's the part of you that sees beyond this human life and all your silly entanglements here. It smiles warmly at the person trying to cause you pain, or make you angry. It sends only love out to the worst among you, up to and including the worst parts of yourself.

Even though your soul is never really off, you too often forget it's there, and you allow the tricks and treacheries of your brain to do all your thinking for you.

Through meditation and practice, you can learn to turn your brain off, and allow your soul's light to shine brightly within you. You can do this in bed at night, or while you're praying in your favorite sacred place in town or at home, but you can also do it while walking down the hall, or speaking with someone at work or in the supermarket.

You can tell your brain to just stop doing all its brain-like things for awhile, and you can instead give yourself over to your peace-loving, life-loving, love-loving soul.

It isn't easy. God knows, it isn't easy. And in those moments when you feel your saddest, or darkest, or most guilty or unworthy, you may feel like even your soul is against you. That again, however, is just your brain playing tricks on you.

Your soul wants only joy, and peace, and love. When all is dark and sad, the sun still shines brightly on your lily pad of peace. Your brain goes off, your soul shines brighter, and all is perfect. It's there, right now, inside you, and it's waiting for you to sit back and relax. Go there now for just a minute or two if you can't do more. Sit on your inner lily pad of peace, and breathe deeply with the light of your soul.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Grape #31: Choose Kindness

This reflection isn't about politics. It's about morality.

I have seen darkness, bullying, and hatred from my Republican friends and family members. I have also seen darkness, bullying, and hatred from my Democrat friends and family members. Darkness, bullying, and hatred do not show up in the soul of a person based on how they vote. This truth comes with some much-needed clarifications though.

When we speak of basic moral principles, there is a darkness in our country right now that we all, regardless of our political backgrounds and opinions, need to stop. It is a darkness that says that a person is somehow less than we are because of their skin color, gender, sexuality, religion, or nationality. These are moral absolutes that you either comprehend or fail to comprehend, and if you cannot get past that last sentence without agreeing 100%, your soul is sick, and I pray you find healing soon.

But here is a another great sickness that has invaded people of every political, sexual, religious, and ethnic equation. It is the disease of bullying, and it infects a person so much, they act without thinking or feeling in their pursuit of hurting other people. They mock people boldly on Facebook. They "slut shame", they bully, and they demean their fellow human beings in many corrosive, acidic, and disgusting ways, and it needs to stop right now.

We cannot hope to change this world for the better, to unite our country or our world, through hatred. No dark room can be brightened by bringing the darkness from another room into it. The dark can only be vanquished by the light.

To be clear, I'm not talking about the very real importance of defending yourself from danger, whether imminent and physical or widespread and political. I am in no way advocating for silence or acceptance of hatred and violence. But when we have the opportunity to discuss, argue, and debate important matters, no one will be helped by using that opportunity to share a demeaning picture or post online. I say this not as a perfect person who has never done this, but as a very imperfect person who has done it, and knows it's wrong.

The darkness I see out there is coming from people on the left and the right. I believe slut shaming Melania Trump is wrong. I believe mocking President Obama's name is wrong. I believe mocking Donald Trump for his hair is wrong. I believe calling a human being a spic, a nigger, or a faggot is wrong. I believe making fun of Chris Christie for his waist size is wrong. I believe hating someone for being a Republican or a Democrat is wrong. And don't tell me you're just calling out hypocrisy or you're dishing back what others give out, because two wrongs never made anything right.

Here's what else I know.

Politics has nothing to do with hatred, judgment, and dismissal of human beings because of their race, religion, sexuality, gender, and so on. When a human being, whether he's the President-elect or just the guy selling you your coffee, tells people that violence is a good thing, and hatred is a good thing, you need to use your own brain, your own heart, and your own soul, and realize that person is wrong. You need to call it out when it's safe to do so, and you need to make sure your friends and family members do the same.

You need to know, without any doubt in your mind, that hatred, violence, and bullying are wrong. This is not my opinion or my political belief. This is Morality 101, and I'm alarmed that so many human beings have not yet passed this entry-level class.

We are called to be kinder. We are called to be gentler. We are called to be more compassionate, loving human beings. This is not a religious calling or a political preference. This is a basic moral principle, and it's what keeps us all from killing one another.

The United States right now is filled with people who are scared. Respect that. Feel compassion for that. Try your best to understand that. If your only response is to mock people who are protesting, or crying, or shouting their grief and fear out into the wind, you are the problem. You are the sickness that has infiltrated this country and our world. If your first inclination is to laugh and to make fun of your fellow citizens, even those of opposing political parties, you are a sick-souled person. And again, I say this as someone who has done this myself. I'm not perfect, but I will forever believe we should all strive to be more perfect than we are.

I am a man who was raised a Christian but who found Christ outside the church more than within. I was an altar boy in grade school, a Bishop's server in high school, and a monk in college. I walked the walk and I talked the talk. And even though I have been heading away from "the church" for almost 20 years now since leaving the religious life, I have learned that basic moral principles have never been the property of religion. Morality instead forms an arc of love over us all. And though this moral arc can absolutely be found inside the walls of temples, mosques, and churches, it is not at all dependent on religious background, teaching, or even belief in order to be found.

So here we are today, a country split in half with differences and fed by anger and hatred. We are broken, and we need to acknowledge that brokenness. We cannot hope to mend this division until we first fully acknowledge that we are a nation of vastly different people with vastly different opinions that has been torn open and wounded.

Our agreement to certain moral absolutes is the foundation on which all laws and differences of political opinion are based. We agree that violence is wrong, that all men are created equal, that citizens are innocent until proven guilty, and that love is always, always, always greater than hate.

So I pray, for those who will read this, that you go back to your social media feeds or your desks at the office or at school, and you try your very best to keep kindness and love in your heart. Bringing darkness and hatred to a dark situation will do nothing. What is now, is now. What will be, will be. Your kindness and your love, even to the point of kindly telling your friends and family members that their social media posts are hateful, will make our moral arc that much stronger, and it will protect us that much more.

Choose kindness. Choose strength when you need to defend the defenseless, or even yourself, but whenever possible, I beg you to seek out and spread kindness. Be kind even with the sick-souled who don't see how sick-souled they are. Be loving with those who seem to be unlovable. And yes, you can still do this with strength and volume in your voice in the pursuit of healing our country's soul.

The moral arc that surrounds us needs feeding and constant upkeep. Our world needs more and more love, now more than ever before. What will be, will be, but what will be can be made better because of kindness. Choose kindness. Be Kindness. And be gentle, with yourself as much as with others. It isn't the solution to all our problems, but it is a much more powerful tool to take with us through our day than hatred.
Because in a world where even our political leaders are encouraging violence and hatred, it is your moral responsibility to preach out for a kinder world.

I pray for us all: Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and all those who are watching our country right now on the world stage. May we ALL make the choice today, right now, to not just choose this kindness for ourselves, but to do our best to teach our families, our friends, and our communities to choose this kindness as well. Fight the good fight in dialogue and discussion, and yes, even in political fervor, but do so always with kindness in your thoughts, your words, and your heart. We can be better than this. We are better than this. And it's time we changed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Grape #30: Holy Week Reflections

Without fail, whenever Holy Week arrives, I'm brought back to every other Holy Week I've gone through before, every time I've watched the Jesus of Nazareth Miniseries, every passion play I've witnessed, or mass, or ritual, or stations of the cross.

It all begins, of course, with humility. On what we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey. Hardly a bells-and-whistles entrance, I think you'd agree, but enough people know who he is now after he's been teaching and preaching for three years across the region. So here he comes moseying along--I always think of Eeyore--and just like his ride, he smiles sadly and says, "Thanks for noticing me."

Okay, so maybe that's not what he said, but you understand what I mean? He wasn't exactly screaming out for people to notice him. Still, they did notice him. They did know who he was, and they did recognize the beauty of the moment. They laid down palm fronds before him in tribute to both him and his ministry. It was beautiful.

He spends the week with his disciples, and he tells them to prepare the Passover meal later in the week. This will be the day we now call Holy Thursday. He dines with his friends, and starts to tell them what will happen next. And they're riveted, absolutely riveted. "Wait, what is he saying? This is all going to happen now? This weekend?" Imagine you're out to dinner with friends, and someone tells you they're about to be arrested, tried for treason, and killed the next day. You'd stop eating and stare at him with wild eyes, too. "No," you'd say, "that can't be true."

"No joke," he says, "In fact, the person who reaches for that yummy basket of breadsticks at the same time as me will betray me this very night." And by the time they're out in the olive garden, full from dinner, they forget. They fall asleep. He shakes his head at them and looks up in prayer. "Dear God, for Passover this year, won't you please let this cup pass over me? Can't we do this some other way?" He pleads to God for intercession, but nothing happens.
"In Gethsemane, the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from him. It did not. After that, the idea that prayer is recommended to us as a sort of infallible gimmick may be dismissed." - C. S. Lewis
Good Friday arrives, and within just a few hours that morning, he's tried and sentenced to death. The disciples seem to have slept in that morning, because most of them weren't even aware this was happening. In his darkest moments the night before, they slept, and in his final hours, they slept in. As they woke up late and had breakfast, maybe an egg sandwich or bagel, he was being whipped. Someone even cut out a bunch of thorns from a rose bush and crushed it on his head. "Here's your crown, king!" they laughed. By noon, his body was nailed to two pieces of wood, and he was left to die...slowly.

Holy Saturday's the day when nothing happens, and there's a supreme holiness in that. When you've spent the last two days thinking and praying about the awful end to Jesus's life, you're suddenly faced with this empty hole in your life. Tears may come, just as they do when you're a day apart from a loved one's death, but at the same time, you're left feeling empty. Robbed. Uncertain of anything.

But then Easter Sunday arrives. You've finally convinced yourself your loved one is gone. The awful hours of the previous two or three days are behind you, but now you reach the tomb and find it empty. Impossible, you think. How could this be true? The resurrection is at the core of Christian theology, but even if you have trouble believing that Jesus rose from the dead, body and soul, there's still the truth as shared by so many in the years afterward.

"We saw him appear before us." "We touched the holes in his hands and feet." "He walked with us on the road to Emmaus."

These were people who Jesus told to their faces what would happen, and even they didn't believe him. Peter, his closest disciple, denied even knowing him! They fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane when he needed them most. They slept in the next morning while he was beaten and crucified. And when the women of their group ran to them and said they saw him alive, risen from the dead, risen from the tomb, they made fun of them. "You silly women don't know anything," they mocked, "Why should we believe you?"

So when we read about all of this, including their amazing stories about finally seeing him themselves, talking to him, touching his hands and dining with him, we see real people telling their real stories without sugarcoating anything. "We didn't believe either," they're telling us, "and we know it all sounds crazy, but it's true!"

Holy Week comes just once a year, but we go through it over and over again in our lives. Every time someone close to us dies, we experience all the pain and doubt, lethargy and hopelessness the disciples felt. Our faith is tested, and we may even scoff at those who try to tell us they've seen the resurrected spirit of a loved one in person. But it's true--all of it!

All theology aside--and I personally don't believe a whole lot of things traditional religion has taught me--the soul does survive death! Holy Week is an opportunity to reflect on all of it: the death and the life, the empty hole and the empty tomb, the darkness of this world, and the light of the next. "We didn't believe either, and we know it all sounds crazy, but it's true!"

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Grape #29: Irritable Scowl Syndrome

You've no doubt heard about bitchy resting face, a syndrome that's not so much intentional as it is unfortunate. Irritable scowl syndrome is similar, but it absolutely comes with intention.

The serial scowler either knows they are, or simply doesn't care. They make no effort to conceal their distaste, for that would defeat the purpose of scowling in the first place.

A scowl is meant to convey distaste and judgment. It is intended to communicate disagreement with the hopes of changing the situation at hand.

When afflicted with ISS (Irritable Scowl Syndrome), you walk around with hatred. You see a car parked badly, and you scowl. You see a teenager dressed in a way you disagree with, and you scowl. You see a post on social media you don't like, and you scowl. You see a person you dislike with a smile on their face, and you scowl. You see a problem with your meal at a restaurant, and you scowl. You see a scowl, and you scowl.

ISS is common in people over 40, but it's also common in people one day of age and up. In rare cases, Irritable Scowl Syndrome can cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and just as often, Irritable Bowel Syndrome can cause Irritable Scowl Syndrome. Talk to your doctor about almost anything, and you may soon find yourself with Irritable Scowl Syndrome. Four out of five doctors have Irritable Scowl Syndrome, and it is contagious.

There is no known cure for ISS, but encouraging your face to move in the upward position rather than downward is a good place to start. Practice in the mirror if necessary. Just think of happy things, and see if that helps. In clinical trials, some patients observed that simply loving people rather than judging them helped remove the scowl immediately.

For more ways to help reverse the process of scowling, please visit Spirituality With A Smile on Facebook, or subscribe to this blog.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Grape #28: Doubling Down On Kindness

Very often lately, I've heard about how a political candidate is accused of saying or doing something heinous, and instead of apologizing, he doubles down on his hateful rhetoric a day later.

So today, to help balance the universe out, I thought we could look at ways we can all double down on kindness in our lives.

The kind thing to do is holding a door open. The double-down kind thing to do is holding the door open with a smile or a happy comment.

The kind thing to do is letting someone pull in front of you on the road. The double-down kind thing to do is waving them in with your hand.

The kind thing to do is smiling kindly at a stranger. The double-down kind thing to do is really meaning it.

The kind thing to do is pointing out some water or mess on the floor, so the next person doesn't slip. The double-down kind thing to do is cleaning it up yourself right away.

The kind thing to do is putting your phone down on the table while you're sitting with someone at a meal or a party. The double-down kind thing to do is putting your phone away completely in your pocket or purse.

The kind thing to do is not replying in a nasty way to a hate-filled post on social media. The double-down kind thing to do is posting something love-filled in response.

The kind thing to do is fully listening to someone tell a story. The double-down kind thing to do is not one-upping them once they're done.

The kind thing to do is giving your loved ones all your attention and love. The double-down kind thing to do is giving all your attention and love to those who look, pray, and speak differently than you do.

The kind thing to do is appreciating that we're all different, and we're allowed to have different beliefs from one another. The double-down kind thing to do is opening your mind to really learning about other cultures and beliefs.

The kind thing to do is liking this post on social media. The double-down kind thing to do is sharing it. *smile*

Reply here or in the posting you saw this from with your own double-down suggestion. The kind thing to do is ______________. The double-down kind thing to do is ______________.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Grape #27: The spiritual response to bullies

I'm an easy target for bullies. A lot of people see me as a pushover, or weak, someone who they know won't come back at them with the same intimidation or mean words they throw at me. 99% of the time, that's who I am, and I've always regretted the times I lashed out in response.

Growing up Catholic, we watched the entire Jesus of Nazareth miniseries every year in high school. I got to know Jesus first as the Son of God, and later as my friend and brother. I've realized over time how much his message has been co-opted by the Pharisees of today, but when I look at the man himself, well, he continues to be one of my greatest role models.

Remember the old "turn and offer him your other cheek as well" slogan? Eugene H. Peterson, my favorite biblical translator, phrases it this way:

"Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously." (The Message, Matthew 5:39-42)

How many of us are capable of doing this? But even more important than that, how many of us believe Jesus was right? How many go to church on Sunday nodding their heads, yet support hate-filled political leaders on Monday?

Jesus said this when Peter drew his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Put your sword back where it belongs. All who use swords are destroyed by swords." (The Message, Matthew 26:52-54) Does this sound like someone who believes in putting even more guns into more hands? But I digress!

We're living in a very strange world in which people use their religions against other people instead of fusing their souls with other people as children of one, love-filled God.

Bullies come in every religious cloth and many outside of belief too, of course. On one side there are religious people who bully others into an ultimatum of dogmas set up against the possibility of eternal damnation, fire and brimstone. And on the other side are comedians mocking religious and spiritual people alike for wasting their time on an invisible, nonexistent deity. Each of these are flanks of far too many in the center: folks who are being taught by osmosis from their favorite news network or preacher that hatred is okay now and then, because it keeps us safe.

So what do we do when we're bullied by someone dead set in their love of hatred, or their casual affair with closed-mindedness? How do we spiritually respond to bullies?

By taking a deep breath--or twenty--and calming the storm within us. When someone says something mean or hurtful about us or our black, Muslim, gay, trans, Spanish, or Chinese friends (and so on), we must let the wild waves churning within us be still. We must find that inner peace that we had as children, the inner peace we all had and still have within us. And once we get to that place, we can respond to the person or situation with love.

Is this easy? No.

And I'm not putting myself up on some pedestal either. I'm just the typist here, not the example. I struggle with all of this just like you do. And that's what this is about anyway, isn't it? Realizing we're all in this together?

The elevator filled with all kinds of people and beliefs, religious and political, gets stuck between floors, and we have to decide to either be at peace or be in the perpetual storm that does nothing but hurt us and others.

The spiritual response to bullies is peace and love. It's the solution that requires no fists or swords or guns or bullying words of any kind. It's the solution that may even mean getting punched in the face or the shirt stolen off our back.

Can we defend ourselves and our neighbors from suffering and death? Can we take up arms against a sea of troubles if the sea of troubles is threatening to crash onto the shores of our homes and souls? Well, what did Jesus do? He was arrested, peacefully. He was beaten, severely. And instead of just being killed, he was killed slowly up on a cross for all to see, as the hot sun beat down on his hungry, thirsty, bloody body.

I'm not suggesting you go that far! That isn't my purpose!

I just want you to see how far from that you've gone when you insult someone's race, religion, sexuality, or identity in any way. I want you to see how far from spirit you are when you help bullies succeed, when instead of helping your sisters and brothers who struggle to put food on the table (whether or not they treat themselves to a new pair of sneakers), you instead vote for political leaders who preach vile, evil hatred every chance they get.

Deep breaths, deep breaths, Sean. I'm trying!

I understand now why Jesus lashed out at the money-changers in the temple, but instead of making that one instance of anger the center of my approach, I remember how kind the man was most of the time, how much he preached love and forgiveness. I remember how amazingly, freakin' sweet he was all the time. And it helps me still the storms of anger others have stirred within me.

I continue to pray, as I hope you will too, that we may all strive for greater peace, both in our world, and in our hearts. The storms will keep coming at us all the time, and they'll show up in all sorts of disguises and phrases, even from people smiling and pretending to be good. But when we trust in and swim in the calm waters deep within us, we can better react to the hatred. We can, and we must. This world needs us to try harder.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Grape #26: What does being a good person REALLY mean?

Today's reflection is a tricky one for me, because anytime I presume to tell others what is moral and what is not, there are some out there who gleefully wag their morality-loving fingers right back at me in response. So right from the start, let me be clear: I'm not perfect. I do things I shouldn't. I say things I shouldn't. I react and act in ways I should not. For all my angelic tendencies, and I do have some, I've still got a big stack of non-angelic tendencies. So if you know me well, dear reader, please know the words I share below are the deepest truths from my heart and soul. They are not claims to my own fame, but rather moral absolutes I preach to myself as much as to you.

What does being a good person mean?

It means letting people in on the parkway, and asking for a place in as well. It means holding the door open for people when they're closing in fast, and apologizing when you forget or neglect to do so. It means not gossiping about others incessantly, harping on the worst characteristics of a person, or whatever perceived weaknesses you believe they have.

But these are just some of the first steps to being a good person. These are easy.

What does being a good person really mean?

It means standing up to bullies, who too often think they are not bullies simply because they refrain from violence. Bullies, more often than not, bully with their mouths.

It means calling out a wrong, no matter who said or did it. It could be your spouse or best friend, or even the leader of your political party of choice. A wrong is a wrong is a wrong.

But even these are just directions we walk once we're healthy enough to understand basic right from basic wrong. Before all this, we need to choose to be a certain type of person. We need to choose to live this one life like the angels we already are.

So what does being a good person REALLY mean?

It means caring enough. It means choosing to be the kind of person who cares so much, your opportunities to better the world multiply before you more than others.

It means noticing a person's nerves and reaching out to them to help.

It means speaking to other people as if you're speaking to God.

It means being the kind of person who doesn't push a glass door open with his fingers on the glass, simply because someone will have to clean it later.

It means listening, really listening, to a friend or family member speak, and not just spending the time thinking up your reply.

It means believing that most of the people on this planet mean well.

It means not judging an entire group of people based on some who have done wrong.

There are people in this world who will shovel their front walk just so they don't get sued, and not so people don't fall. We all know people like this. They clearly don't care, at least about others. They cut us off on the parkway, they let the door slam in our faces, and they mock other people with an unholy venom. They believe that everyone out there is their enemy until they prove themselves otherwise. They believe the world is filled with bad people, and it's their job to take up arms against them--sometimes literally, but more often than not, verbally and emotionally.

Conversely, a truly good person believes we are all children of God (or, outside of all religious talk, that we are all average human beings until there is serious reason to doubt or fear a particular person).

Being a good person means not just doing good, but believing in good. It means walking through this life like an angel in disguise. It means trying your very best, all the time, not because you're expected to put in a good effort some of the time, but because your highest calling is to be good ALL the time.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Grape #25: Give Yourself Permission To LIVE!

Every day is a new possibility. ANYTHING can happen. Lots of anythings WILL happen. Just let go and let them HAPPEN!

When was the last time you JUMPED up and down? When was the last time you walked around the block, not for fresh air or exercise, but to simply APPRECIATE your neighborhood? When was the last time you got down on the floor and LOOKED UP at your home to see how a child or pet sees it all?

Do yourself a favor. TURN UP the music more often! GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION to rock out more than you do!

your life
, EVERY CHANCE you get!

Tears and sadness will return no matter what, so balance them out by truly living THIS  BEAUTIFULIFE whenever you can!